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Martin O'Neill: 'The sooner we get to look at the opposition, the better.'

Martin O'Neill: 'The sooner we get to look at the opposition, the better.'

SPORTSFILE

Martin O'Neill: 'The sooner we get to look at the opposition, the better.'

REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill will get straight down to work once today's qualifying draw for Euro 2016 is complete.

"The sooner we get to look at the opposition, the better," said O'Neill, who is in Nice for this morning's draw.

"That will be done as soon as possible and as often as possible as well. I accept that when we are playing, other teams will be playing on the same night but we will have the matches covered."

As part of his preparations for the qualifiers, O'Neill also plans on familiarising himself with the players his team will be facing, especially the ones he hasn't heard of before.

"Many, many years ago when I was playing, Northern Ireland would be playing Yugoslavia at the time and there might be only two players who you would be aware of, the rest of them you didn't know. Because a lot of these players are playing in different countries, you can get to know them a wee bit more than you did before. That is the idea anyway, to get to know the international players individually as much as possible."

So instead of driving up and down the motorways of England monitoring potential Ireland players, as he has been doing since his appointment last November, O'Neill could soon be jetting around Europe checking out his opposition.

Last week, O'Neill announced his squad for the upcoming friendly against Serbia but he has yet to decide on a captain for the qualifying campaign.

"It's less of an issue to me, and it always has been," he said. "I went to Leicester City and never changed the captain there. I was at Celtic and I think Neil Lennon would have been crying out to be captain of the side. I think he captained the team maybe on about five occasions in the five years I was there but did I expect him to do the job on the field, which he did brilliantly for me, without wearing a captain's armband? Absolutely.

"He was a real captain of the team. He was as vociferous as anybody, the very first one to speak in the dressing room and things like that. But did he wear the captain's armband? No. And this is the sort of thing I expect from players.

"You'll have quiet players. For instance, little (James) McCarthy is having a really great time at Everton. He is, by nature, pretty quiet. Can he impose himself on games even while being quiet? Absolutely. The captaincy in that sense, the person wearing the armband, is not as important to me in that, it would be great to have a Roy Keane there, but if it's not the case then fine, people can captain in different ways."

O'Neill's priority is to build a team which wins football matches but if someone comes through in the next few months who is a stand-out candidate for captain then he will look at it as a possibility. But for now he is clearly focused on qualification and the impact it has on the people of Ireland isn't lost on him.

"I've been aware of that for quite some time, not just the three months I'm here. I think really Jack Charlton was the first one to really give the country a taste of it and it didn't matter how you got there. I don't think anyone worried too much about that. It was great and it has followed on from that.

"The success then with Mick [McCarthy] as well too and I think success breeds it and you want a bit more of it and it became a major disappointment not to qualify last time around.

"Let's be fair from a distance the hype around Poland then was just extraordinary. Not a problem, you just have to deal with it. 'We'll just have a little look at the group, we'll beat Croatia, no problem! Spain could be tight and actually who will we get then in the quarter-finals'. Extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary, more extraordinary when you just mentioned, 'Oh we still got the same old squad'. You know so

there you go, somewhere along the way it's a great old balancing thing. But it does not take away from the importance, absolutely I want to try and qualify."

O'Neill will be joined at the Palais des Congres Acropolis today by his assistant manager, Keane. O'Neill says their working relationship is progressing well and they meet up regularly in Birmingham to deal with Ireland team business.

"I just give him time and get on with it. He's got great enthusiasm for it when he comes on the phone after games he's covered. He's like a kid at times which is great."

O'Neill also confirmed that the pair have discussed Keane's forthcoming book, which he is working on with Roddy Doyle, and he insists he has no issue with it.

"I think if I vehemently disagreed with it, I don't think Roy would have gone with it. I think there will be a fairly decent level of control and that on Roy's side it will be more club-related. If the book came out tomorrow what will it say about us? 'Dear Diary . . . Met up in Malahide!'"

Ireland's chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 are helped by the fact that the tournament has been expanded to 24 teams.

France, as hosts, qualify automatically and then the remaining 53 teams will be drawn into eight groups of six and one group of five. France will then be added into that group but their games will only count as friendlies. O'Neill says he would rather not be in that group with France. Not because of any past controversies but more because he'd rather play meaningful games.

The top two teams in every group and one best third-place team will automatically qualify. The other eight third-place finishers will then play off for the remaining four spots.

Euro 2016 Qualifying Draw, RTE2, 11.00am

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